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Mother in law stage 4 husband in denial


So my mother in law has triple negative breast cancer that is metastatic. It is in her lung and brain now. She just had surgery to remove a tumor from her brain.

My husband seems to think everything is going to be fine because she had the tumor removed. He has always been in denial ever since she was diagnosed with cancer in 2020. I'm afraid of what's going to happen if it does go down hill.

What should I do.


  • parakeetsrule
    parakeetsrule Member Posts: 605
    edited January 2022

    What you do could be anything from "nothing" to "serious intervention".

    Does he fully understand what metastatic breast cancer means? It's VERY, very common for people to genuinely think it's curable. Does he understand, but just use denial to get through the day? Can you describe more about what he is/isn't doing?

  • rebzamy
    rebzamy Member Posts: 49
    edited January 2022

    As well as the above, it might be that he isn't ready to take it on board and needs to take time to adjust and digest it. It's a way of coping with something that people don't want to cope with.

  • moderators
    moderators Posts: 7,274
    edited January 2022

    Tirai123, we are sorry to hear about your mother in-law. Everyone copes differently. Perhaps you could encourage your husband to read a bit more on metastatic breast cancer, so you don't have to confront him yourself. Here is a good place to start, if this could be helpful: Metastatic Breast Cancer.

  • salamandra
    salamandra Member Posts: 703
    edited January 2022

    I don't think there's much a person could do to make the death of a parent better. If he's going to melt down when she dies (whether it's in a year or 40) he'll melt down whether he anticipated it or not.

    I would think hard about what you think he would gain from being more realistic about her prognosis. If you think he is passing up chances to spend time with her that he will regret, that is a concrete thing that you could address and support him on, without necessarily force him to confront a "fact" that is not coming naturally to him, that may just cause him anticipatory grief and make things worse. If his mother feels strongly that she wants to be able to talk with him about her death and dying or goodbyes or estate planning, and he's not able to participate in that... well that's really between her and him, but still something concrete that you could support him with. But my guess is that he may be handling this with some level of denial because she is as well. I certainly took my cues from my mother on this.

    So I guess I don't think you necessarily have to do anything about his feelings, but if you can think of things you think he should be *doing*, you can work on ways to help him do them without necessarily needing him to believe anything in particular about her prognosis. The fact is, something catastrophic could happen to him and she could still outlive him, and then he would never need to process her death at all. I hope that's not morbid. I mean that to say that even under the circumstances of a stage 4 diagnosis, certainty about the future is an illusion. If hope is working for him now, let it work.

    If you are having feelings and needs that he cannot address - if you feel the need to process this with someone who treats her death as more certain and imminent, that is definitely legit. Presumably you have your own relationship with your mother-in-law and your own set of concerns about what will happen when she's gone. But you need to find someone other than your husband to process that with. Not only because his approach is not less valid than yours, but also because of ring theory - comfort in and dump out.


  • kbl
    kbl Member Posts: 2,548
    edited January 2022

    Salamandra, I would put a love emoji on your post if I could. Beautifully spoken.

    Tirai123, if you're not aware, does have meetups on Zoom for caregivers. Maybe you could join one and get some support that way.

  • Tirai123
    Tirai123 Member Posts: 2
    edited January 2022

    My mother in law cannot walk on her own and has vision loss and cannot stay awake very long and she is in a lot of pain all the time.

    my husband went to stay with her and He says he doesn't want to know about anything.

  • cowgirl13
    cowgirl13 Member Posts: 763
    edited January 2022

    I think you have to respect his right to not know about anything. It's his mother. What you can do is to address your own feelings.

  • parakeetsrule
    parakeetsrule Member Posts: 605
    edited January 2022

    It's good that he is spending time with her. If he wants to do that and he doesn't want to know any of the gory details or talk about it, that's okay. As long as he's there for her and as long as he's not telling her things like "when you get better...." then I'd leave him be and let him talk when he's ready and deal with it in his way. Like Salamandra said, keep the ring theory in mind. His mother is the center, your husband is one ring out, and you are two rings out. If you have hard feelings to work through or you want to talk about cancer details that he's not willing to talk about, you'll need to find another person to help you. This forum is a great place for that so I'm glad you are here!

  • lillyishere
    lillyishere Member Posts: 757
    edited January 2022

    Tirai123, I have found it very difficult to get between DH and his mother. When my MIL got very sick, I figured out my DH didn't want my suggestions, my help, etc. and he was in denial to almost the end. I learned to stay away and to let him deal with his mom. I believe it was the right decistion.